Owner of Iconic Ben’s Kosher Deli Puts Down the Pastrami Slicer


Ronnie Dragoon, longtime owner of Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers, announced on his blog this week that he is about to retire and is looking for a new owner to take over his network of seven sites — six in Greater New York, including the iconic Times Square location, and one in Boca Raton, Fla.

“I must take a step back … from what has been the center of my working life for close to half a century,” Dragoon, 71, wrote in the Feb. 3 post. “The restaurant business is getting more difficult and the labor market is ever shrinking with loyalty and caring.

“I keep thinking of how Bernie Sanders. Michael Bloomberg, and Joe Biden” — Democratic presidential candidates in their late 70s — “can continue to campaign at their advanced age when I … am having a hard time keeping up,” he wrote, adding that “I want Ben’s to continue.”

Dragoon’s blog did not offer any details about his effort to arrange for new ownership. The manager of the Times Square shop, Hal Simon, told The Jewish Week that it was too soon to comment.

His announcement follows the recent report that the Fairway’s chain of supermarkets – including its Upper West Side location that has been popular among Jewish shoppers – has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

According to most estimates, New York was the home to 1,500 kosher and kosher-style delis in the 1930s. By early in the last decade, as foodie tastes changed and kosher standards among many Jewish diners increased, the number has dwindled to about a dozen, said Ted Merwin, author of “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli.” Among the casualties in the last few years were Ben’s Best (an independent deli not part of the larger Ben’s network) in Forest Hills and the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan.

Like many of the delis, Ben’s was not patronized by some stringently kosher-keeping diners because it was open on Shabbat.

Dragoon, a native of Forest Hills who majored in political science at Brooklyn College and worked as a community organizer, founded his first Ben’s, in Baldwin Harbor in 1972. He named the restaurant after his father.

“To whomever I entrust the future … a brand I have built over 47 years … I want them to keep the tradition alive,” Dragoon wrote. “I will always be a part of Ben’s to my last days, just not working behind the counter or wearing my working whites with my red suspenders.”